000 - Heavy Rain
Ryan discovers a derelict house in the woods.
Content Warning: Suicide
This is all a sort of last-ditch effort to appease the Machinist, if such a thing is possible. If you happen to be the Machinist and you see this – please stop haunting me, I don’t like it and I don’t understand why you’re doing it (although I have an idea of what it’s about, hence the blog). If you’re anyone or anything else, that stuff’s way down the line yet but I’ll get there eventually. For now, this post is just going to be about the day things started for me, and in the future I’ll be transcribing my own journal entries from the past few months as well relevant ones from Berkley’s journals, with whatever flavour I can add from my own memory.
Ok, on to the actual post.
In October of 2020 I was living in Newport, Isle of Wight. Normally I lived in Exeter but I was on the island for a few weeks doing some surveying work at Cheswick Manor, a big but run-down estate in the woods north of Newport. It really was out in the sticks – even by Isle of Wight standards – so I’d have to get a bus into the woods and then walk for half an hour with all my kit from there. Not ideal but I was being paid well for the trouble. On the Friday evening of the first week – the 23rd – the weather was horrid when I came to leave work, despite the fact it had been dry all day up to then and it hadn’t been forecast to rain. I figured it was just a freak shower that had come in from the coast, although really it was too violent and too far inland for that.
As I approached the bus stop I saw an owl in the middle of the road opposite it. It was all white and it just stood there in the rain, ankle deep in the water. The road was at an incline so the rain was rapidly flowing in the direction I had come from, but the owl didn’t seem to care about or even notice its surroundings. As I got closer I realised it was watching me.
Its gaze followed me until I reached the bus stop, and looking back at it I saw its eye’s were a bright reddish-brown colour. They seemed to be the only thing with any sort of colour in the world at the time, everything else was desaturated by the weather. I don’t know much about owls really but some Googling after I got home makes me think it was a barn owl, except it looked too big – maybe four feet tall. Much bigger than I thought a barn owl should be anyway.
I had an aunt who lived in the countryside in Devon. She loved owls and there were a lot of them around her house. I remembered staying with her as a kid and in the night I could hear them screeching outside as they hunted. I never liked it, and locking eyes with this huge, white owl in the road brought those memories back. This was the creature I had always pictured making those noises in the night, though it was silent now. It sounds silly, but it was unnerving. I felt like I couldn’t look away from it and even if I could I wouldn’t have trusted it once I took my eyes away. Everything else – even the sound of the rain on the shelter above me – just seemed to stop existing for a while. There was just the Owl and myself.
Until something caught its attention further up the road. Or maybe upstream is more appropriate, the water running down the incline was maybe three inches deep by now. It sharply turned to face this New Thing, tracking it as it came closer. After a few seconds I saw it – a snake, quickly winding its way down the road. Now I’m not an expert on snakes either, but this wasn’t like any I’d seen before; it was about three meters long and maybe eight inches in diameter at its widest, much larger than anything I’d expect to see in this country, and it was a dark bluish-green colour everywhere except for the head, which was blood red. The thought crossed my mind that the red might actually be blood from a recent kill as it passed between me and the owl taking no notice of either of us, but it looked more like that was just the natural colour. Besides, the rain would’ve washed any blood off of its face very quickly.
The owl’s gaze followed the serpent (that word – serpent – is what came to mind at the time, and it somehow feels more fitting than snake) until it was a little way past the bus stop, then it looked back at me for a moment and promptly took to the air after its new quarry.
I leaned out of the shelter to continue watching the odd pair. The snake’s body had all but disappeared in the weather, its head being all that could be easily made out. The owl, on the other hand, was much clearer as it glided along behind – with its wings fully outstretched it was almost as wide as the road. I picked up my bag and began to follow it. Now I can’t explain my thought process here – I really have no idea why I decided to follow the owl. I didn’t know where they would go or what they would do or how far I’d follow. I didn’t care about the rain battering my head or seeping into my trainers or the fact that my bus was probably less than ten minutes away. I don’t even think I really wanted to go – I just went. It didn’t feel like a choice I had consciously made. In hindsight, the same could be said for a lot of what I did from that point on.
After about a minute of jogging after them I turned to follow them down a narrow track on the left. I had never noticed this track before despite walking down this road almost a dozen times that week, most recently no more than ten minutes prior. But again, I paid no mind. I just kept after the owl, now less visible against the sky (it had to fly above the bushes here as they were only two feet apart). The serpent was gone as far as I could tell, but I’m sure the owl could still see it.
Eventually the track opened out into a clearing surrounded by tightly spaced pine trees, except for the tall hedges behind me enveloping the track (which appeared to be the only way into the clearing, other than directly through the woods). The clearing was maybe twenty metres in diameter, with a low fence segmenting it a few feet in front of me. A gate was open roughly in the middle of the fence and from there a narrow stone path extended to a house in the middle of the clearing. From the outside it looked like a semi-detached, despite the lack of any attached dwelling – one side was flat, exposed brickwork, scuffed in such a way that it looked like another house had once been there, but had been demolished. The front was rendered and had a square bay window protruding out on the ground floor. The overall effect was of a narrow half-house that looked like it had been ripped from its counterpart in a suburb somewhere and dropped in the middle of the woods. In the gloomy weather it looked like something out of a Tim Burton film.
Apart from seeming wildly out of place, the building was in an immense state of disrepair. None of the ground floor windows were intact that I could see and few of the first floor ones were, the roof had retained maybe a third of its tiles, and the front door was missing altogether which allowed the serpent to wind its way inside as I watched from the gate. The owl was perched on one of the few pieces of drain pipe still fixed to the soffit.
I allowed my feet to carry me into the house. The hallway was in a similar state to the exterior – paint that was once white was now stained green and brown and black with damp in the places it still clung to the walls, water was pouring down the wooden staircase on my right and draining away through the gaps left by the missing floorboards, and the stud wall on my left had several large holes in it. I looked through one into what used to be a lounge; there was a crumbling fireplace, an old leather armchair that I expected to be in worse condition and an ugly green carpet that was also stained and rotting. There was a small box television opposite the armchair. It looked older than me and the screen had a crack running horizontally through it, but it appeared to be functioning as it was displaying static. I spent a few seconds watching the snow on the screen before I was spooked by a sudden thumping upstairs.
The roof was clearly doing nothing to keep the rain out and the upstairs ceilings weren’t doing much better, with parts that were collapsed and the rest threatening to follow suit, so the water was coming in virtually uninhibited. As I came to the top of the stairs I could hear shuffling in the room immediately to my right, and looking in I saw the owl had found its way into the bathroom through a hole in the wall that might have housed a window once. So I went to investigate one of the two bedrooms on my left.
The room was spacious. There was an unmade single bed in one corner which looked too small for the room, beside that was a desk looking out of the window, and on the other side of that was a large antique-looking cabinet, next to a cheaper, newer-looking wardrobe. What caught my eye first however was a length of rope dangling through the ceiling (which was mostly just the exposed joists at this point) with a loop tied at the end. A noose. It hadn’t been used, to my relief, but it was still a concerning welcome to the room. Looking up through the ceiling I saw it was tied to one of the roof trusses, and that the roof over this part of the house was largely missing too, letting the rain directly into the room and soaking everything. Except for on the desk – everything else in the room was untidy and sodden, but there was a single dry patch on the desk, and in this dry patch was a small, black, leather book and rectangular tin, about the size of my phone but twice as deep. I picked up the book. It had no title or other markings on the covers but flicking through there was a lot of hand-written text so I thought it must be a journal. I couldn’t say why, but I opened my bag and put it inside, as well as the tin (without looking inside) and then promptly forgot about them until I returned home that evening.
Once I was back in the hallway I couldn’t ignore the owl. It was staring at me again through the open bathroom door and I found myself walking toward it. It looked even bigger in the cramped bathroom, and I was uncomfortable sharing the space with it. I stood in the doorway watching it for a few moments – it wasn’t as still as it was before and it wasn’t staring so intently, if anything it seemed at ease but I was getting more anxious about what it might do by the second. Until I saw something out of the corner of my eye. The bath was full of water – overflowing with all the rain coming in – but something round and blue was poking above the surface. I went over to the bath and saw a woman was submerged, and her jean-clad knee was bent just above the water line. My stomach tightened. I remembered the empty noose in the bedroom and I began to feel sick. She was fully submerged, fully dressed, eyes open, no response to me standing over her.
After a second of frozen panic I reached into the bath and lifted her out. Or rather dragged her out – her clothes were wet through and made her much heavier than she looked. The water was cold. Once she was slumped on the floor I checked her neck for a pulse. Nothing. Her wrists. Nothing. I put my ear to her nose to listen for breathing. Nothing. I shook her gently by the shoulders, and then not so gently while calling to her. Still nothing. I didn’t know what to do now. The owl was pacing on what little floor was available to it, periodically stretching its wings a little. It appeared disinterested in us, but its presence still felt imposing – as if it were assessing me.
I finally got my act together and called 999. I stumbled over my words a little explaining that I had found a potentially drowned woman to the operator (I didn’t bother explaining the owl to them). At their instruction I began performing CPR to the best of my ability. I had done some first aid training with the Air Cadets as a child but it had been nearly a decade since I had even thought about it, now I was wishing I had done a refresher course, if that was a thing. I gave my location as best I could to the operator while giving chest compressions to the unconscious woman and waiting for the ambulance crew to arrive.
But they never did. I didn’t know how long I gave CPR to the woman for – it felt like hours – but eventually the operator told me the ambulance crew couldn’t find the house I had described, and that if the woman wasn’t responding yet then the best thing I could do was to flag them down from the road and lead them to her myself. They said I would find them by the bus stop I had been waiting at earlier. I was exhausted and although I felt guilty admitting it to myself I was glad to give my arms a break, so I hung up the phone and left the woman under the eye of the owl.
When I left the house I was struck by how dark it had gotten – the sun must have been setting when I found the clearing but with the clouds everything had just seemed dull. Now all the light had been lost. I turned on the torch on my phone and found my way back through the trail to the road to look for the ambulance. When I reached the road I was next to a bus stop. Not the one I had found the owl at though, this was the previous stop if you’re heading into Newport (I recognised the messy phallus graffitied on the sign from when I missed my stop the previous morning and had to get off here). I was sure I hadn’t followed the owl this far down the road on the way to the house – it was four miles between the stops at least. I thought I must’ve taken a wrong turn in the dark but it still should’ve taken much longer to get here, and I didn’t remember there being any other trails I could’ve gone down.
These questions were pushed to the back of my mind as a bus – a Number 37, the one I would need to take home – pulled up to the stop and opened the door for me. I stepped in and asked if I could simply travel to the next stop, explaining there should be an ambulance looking for me but I had come out of the woods further up the road than expected. God knows what I looked like – drenched and probably very muddy, exhausted, and searching for an ambulance four miles down the road – but the driver took sympathy on me and let me in without charge. I stood in the front of the bus looking for blue lights ahead and keeping one eye out for the trail I had followed the owl down. I didn’t see either. We reached the shelter I had found the owl at, where the operator had said the paramedics would be waiting, but there was nothing there.
There was nobody else on the bus (unsurprising on this route at any time after five o’clock) so the driver didn’t mind waiting for a moment to see if the ambulance showed up, but after a minute or two it still hadn’t so he suggested I stay on the bus and head home; maybe they just found another way round to the house. I was too tired and confused to give it much thought so I paid my fare and took a seat, making a mental note to check in at a police station or something in the morning to see if I could follow it up.
I got back to my flat shortly after nine o’clock, a little over three hours later than usual. I dropped my bag by the door and bee-lined for the kettle when something struck me. I didn’t remember picking my bag up. In fact I was sure I had left it by the body I discovered – my intention had been to return there with the paramedics – and I couldn’t remember having it with me on the bus. But I had it with me when I got home so I must’ve picked it up, right? I chalked it up to my tiredness, and frankly this whole evening had a sort of dreamlike quality to it, the details were getting harder and harder to retain as the night progressed. I checked the bag and all my work kit was in there, as well as the journal and the tin.
I took a sheet of printer paper and began to write down as much as I could remember about my night. This would be useful when I went to the police in the morning, especially if my memories deteriorated further in my sleep. Once there was about a side and a half of bullet points I placed the sheet conspicuously by the kettle with the tin and journal. I had forgotten about making tea and by now I just wanted sleep, so I decided against any caffeine and went to bed.
In the morning I found that I could still recall most of what happened the previous night, however several things I had written down had escaped my memory. The notes did seem quite comprehensive though and they painted a relatively detailed picture even where my memory was patchy, although I imagine there were things that skipped my brain before I could write them down. After satisfying myself that I had a relatively good idea of what happened I finally decided to investigate the book and the tin. I was right about the book – it was a journal and it had the name Elliott Berkley scrawled inside the cover, whom I presumed to be the woman in the bath. I skipped over some of the entries but I couldn’t make much sense of the out of context snippets. In the final entry – dated October 22nd, a day before I found her – she talked about ending her own life with the noose rigged up in the bedroom (all but confirming the owner of the journal was the woman in the house) saying how she wanted to die on her own terms and “not that damned snake’s”. Even then I knew this was significant – especially given how she didn’t use the noose in the end – but wouldn’t be sure of what it all meant until much later.
Next I inspected the tin. The thing itself was nondescript – about six inches by four, maybe one-and-a-half deep, and a bit battered. Inside, face-down, was a deck of cards. The pattern on the back was a fractal made up of circles of various sizes touching the edges with an eye overlaid at the centre of the card. Taking them out of the tin and looking at the fronts I saw these were tarot cards. The designs were mostly in black and white (or the off white colour of the card at least) with some features highlighted in red. They were unlike any I had seen on tarot cards before, which frankly isn’t saying much, though as I flicked through them one card stuck out to me; the six of swords. It depicted an owl stood ankle deep in water, looking out of the card. There were four swords sticking hilt-up out of the water, and two more pointing out of the clouds above. Behind the owl were tall, triangular silhouettes which I took to be simplified trees and half of a typical house shape, as though it had been cut down the middle. It appeared to be raining heavily.
I began to think about what I would tell the police. Obviously I wasn’t going to lie to them but I wasn’t sure how I should explain following an owl through the torrential rain or why I just went home when I couldn’t find the ambulance. Eventually I settled on answers that were near enough to the truth, although I was having trouble remembering what any of my motivations really were that night. Anything I was unable to explain could probably be accounted for by shock or exhaustion – both of which seemed more likely the more thought I gave them.
It was about eleven in the morning when I got to the constabulary and as I arrived I realised I was very unclear about the procedure of reporting an incident in person. The building was far bigger and far more modern than the image I had in my head (which, admittedly, was informed almost solely by Victorian crime drama) and walking in I felt like a lost school child who had wandered into the staff room, expecting to be reprimanded and kicked out at any moment for being in the wrong place. But nobody seemed to even notice I was there for a short while – the reception was open enough that I didn’t take up much space and all the people walking in and out around me clearly had their own business to attend to. After a minute or two a young man behind a desk called out to me asking if I needed help. I told him that I had come to report a body I had found the previous night. This was clearly not what he expected and he asked me for some details – the location and time of the discovery – before picking up a phone and calling for another officer to talk to me. Soon after two uniformed women – a grey haired woman who was maybe fifty and looked serious and a blonde woman who was closer to my age but even more serious – appeared and led me deeper into the building to an interview room.
Naturally the two of them had a lot of questions, many of which I couldn’t give very satisfying answers to, but I answered as truthfully as I could. Except when asked how I knew the name of the woman – I told them I had found the name in a journal in the bedroom, but I neglected to tell them I had the journal in my flat. In hindsight this probably counted as withholding evidence but it wouldn’t have helped them in the end, and when I thought about telling them I had taken it the dream-like sensation that seemed to surround my memories of the night before returned, persuading me that I should keep it for myself and that the risk of withholding it could be ignored. In any case the officers didn’t question me further about the journal.
After I mentioned the name Elliott Berkley the younger officer (I think her name was Allen) left to “check a few things” – presumably who this woman was and any other details of my story she could cross-reference. She gave an air of being suspicious of me although none of her questions seemed accusatory, so maybe that was just how she was. The elder officer – Walsh – was more pleasant and I relayed to her what I could remember of the trail and the house while we waited. I pointed out the two bus stops on Google Maps on my phone for her and we spent a couple of minutes on Street View searching for the entrance to either trail, with no luck. We also couldn’t find the house or the clearing in the woods, but without the trail or the distance from the road we might’ve just been looking at the wrong part of the map. She assured me they’d find it when they went to investigate in person.
Allen returned about five minutes after leaving, carrying a small file and looking stern as ever. She sat back down and placed the file on the table in front of her. Before opening it she asked why I never called for the police or ambulance upon discovering the body, when I explained – for the second time – that I had called for an ambulance and remained on the line while I waited and administered CPR to the woman Allen informed me that no ambulance had been dispatched to my location that night and there was no record of a call from my number. I protested this and showed her the call log on my phone – proving I had made a 999 call and it had lasted twenty-four minutes. She clearly didn’t believe this but there wasn’t much she could do about it. She frowned at me for a moment before Walsh prompted her to move onto the file. It was a file relating to Elliott Berkley – she had been missing since May 2019 and was presumed dead. Before her disappearance she had been working at Fountainbridge Library in Edinburgh, but no evidence of her presence or substantial leads of any kind had surfaced since and the case had been all but abandoned by Edinburgh Police. Allen showed me a photo from the file and I confirmed that this was indeed the woman I had found, after which there wasn’t a lot more to discuss. Walsh told me they would investigate the house in the woods and be in touch with Edinburgh, and that they would contact me if they found anything or needed anything else from me. I gave them my contact details and left the station.
I never heard back from Walsh or Allen. If I had to guess – and at this point it would be fairly educated – I would say they found no trace of the trail, the clearing or the house and decided I was a mainlander come to waste their time. I didn’t know it then, but I suppose I was.